Tag Archives: Quilts on commission

How Much Are Those Placemats Worth?

On Facebook today, a friend’s page fielded a question about where to find placemats. The person asking wants a set of placemats and a Christmas tree skirt to go with a quilted table runner she bought in 2003. Several people chimed in with help, some of them suggesting she buy fabric and have someone make placemats for her.

The question and the suggestions made me wonder how much a set of four quilted placemats is worth. I broke it down like this:
Assumptions
Four placemats are ordered
Each placemat measures 12″ x 18″
Placemats are made in a 4 x 6 layout of 3″ finish squares

Overhead, administrative, and marketing expenses are negligible
Total overhead cost = $0

Batting and thread are negligible expenses
Fabric is $12/yard
Backing fabric required is 1 yard
Top fabric required (for variety) is at least 6 fat quarters, or 1.5 yards
Binding required (2.5″ wide cut) is .75 yards (due to shrinkage, straightening, etc.)
Total yardage required is 3.25 yards
Total yardage cost is $39
Total cost of materials = $39

Labor cost is $20/hour
Fabric is purchased and washed, but not otherwise prepped by the buyer
Top fabric is pressed and cut into 96 3.5″ squares
Top fabric is arranged into pleasing layouts
Top fabric is stitched into 4 12″ x 18″ finish tops
(Pressing continues throughout stitching process)
Backing fabric is pressed and trimmed into 33″ x Width of Fabric rectangle
Binding fabric is pressed and cut into 2.5″ wide x Width of Fabric strips
Binding fabric is joined to create 280″ long binding strip
Backing fabric is pinned on longarm quilting frame leaders
Batting is cut to size
Batting is loaded on frame, pinned along top edge
Two placemats tops are pinned on to complete sandwich
Thread is wound
Machine is threaded
Machine is tested
Two placemats are basted in place
Two placemats are quilted partway
Two placemats are advanced on the frame (rolled forward)
Two placemats are finished with basting and quilting
Next two placemats are positioned and basted in place
Next two placemats are quilted partway
Placemats are advanced on the frame
Placemats are finished with basting and quilting
Project is removed from the frame
Project is trimmed into 4 separate placemats
Binding is applied to back of each placemat
Binding is machine-finished for each placemat
Total time for 4 placemats is 5 hours
Total labor cost = $100

Total materials and labor = $139
Total cost per placemat = $34.75

Wow. Would you pay $34.75 for simple pieced-squares placemats? I sure wouldn’t. You could argue the time involved or the appropriate labor charge. Let’s take the labor charge to zero. Will you pay $10 each for your placemats? That’s still a lot. But arguably it’s too low. I didn’t include any of the overhead costs, by assumption; I didn’t include the costs of batting or thread; I didn’t include any profit.

A set of handmade quilted placemats is not trivial in value. The notion of “buy a few yards of fabric and find a seamstress … ” as one person suggested, minimizes the value of a maker’s time. I make placemats occasionally, for myself and my children. It is a good gift. But it’s another example of a quilted item with much more value than most people are willing to pay.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Conversations with Artists

Last Friday evening Jim and I attended our local annual art fair. From around the Midwest, painters, photographers, jewelers, woodworkers, and other artists came to display and sell their goods. Jim and I always enjoy speaking with the makers at art fairs. We get insight into their process and inspirations. We engage more fully with the art itself. This time was no exception.

A large photo of a lake in the Black Hills drew us into the booth of a talented photographer. After enjoying his photos for several minutes, I turned to the man and asked, Do you find that there is an upper limit for what people are willing to spend at an art fair venue?

He paused for a moment, and with a firm voice said, “No. I don’t find that at all. People who are willing to pay for art are just as willing to pay $3,000 as they are $300.” He went on to say everyone loves a discount, but he can discount an expensive photo by $100 or a less expensive photo by the same amount, and the buyer is just as happy either way.

“Huh. I’m a quilter and have thought a lot about selling my quilts. But it’s hard to believe anyone would pay me what they’re worth. For most people, a quilt from Kohl’s is just as good,” I told him.

“Well, they can buy pictures for their wall, too. But the people who buy wall art from Kohl’s and the people who buy from me are completely different people. Two completely different markets.”

***

Jim and I continued through the warm, muggy evening. Wandering in and out of artists’ booths, we asked one woman about a woodcut print. It was a poignant representation of a man who was with us but not… She told me an artists’ group had paired visual artists with poets. The poet she worked with had written about a brother with schizophrenia.

Another woodcut artist had more light-hearted work. One piece included the advice to keep it simple. When I commented on it, he reminded me about jazz music and how so much of the music is in the notes not played.

***

Shortly before we headed home we spotted one of my favorite artists, Meg Prange. Meg is a quilt artist who creates whimsical scenes with blind-stitch appliqué. I’ve visited with her several times over the years, and last year she presented to my local quilt guild.

I asked her how business was and she shrugged. “It’s always slow on Fridays,” she said. We chatted more about art festival sales. In order to break even an artist needs to sell enough to cover all the costs of production, as well as the marketing expenses of the fair. Booth costs, mileage, labor, accommodations and food, it adds up. Again she shrugged. “Last year I didn’t sell much of anything at this fair, but later I got a commission worth $3,300.” Being there had been valuable exposure for her.

***

Since I’ve been thinking about quilting as a business, these conversations were especially informative to me. While the typical “customer” might treat an art fair as a diversion, much like going to a museum, the artists must treat it as a business. They need to know their market and have realistic expectations for profits.

I’ll continue to ask questions about art and artists, including the business side. I may never choose to sell my quilts. But understanding both the motivations and rewards of other makers helps me understand my own, as well. Better understanding can only enhance my creative power.

***

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”

Last week I wrote about why I don’t sell my quilts. It comes down to this: I value my quilts more than potential buyers would, and I will not sell them for less than they’re worth to me. I will give them freely to those I love. I will give them freely in compassionate service. But I won’t sell. Would that ever change? Perhaps, but right now it’s hard to imagine.

My post was spurred by the ongoing discussion among quilters (and other crafters and artists) about how to price handmade goods at appropriate prices. Many sell their quilts for the cost of materials and not much more, not recognizing the value of their time and all the other factors required to create their work. Others understand value in an academic sense but feel uncomfortable in asking for that much, that it seems immodest or something.

Women sell all kinds of products and services. We ask for business every day. We ask people to trust us, that we’ll be honorable in our end of the transaction. When they do, they are not doing us a favor. They are satisfying a need on their own end. It goes two ways.

Marie Forleo defines the particular problem many artists and crafters face here

But a strange phenomenon often occurs for passion-based business owners — especially when it’s time to get paid.
You have trouble bringing yourself to actually ask for money for something you’re so naturally good at.
Feels weirdly like cheating the system. Or taking advantage. Or somehow getting one over on people.

It feels weird asking for pay.

Women, in particular, have been taught to downplay our strengths to others, don’t show off, don’t brag. If you’re just really good and really patient, things will work out for you. Even today we’re told not to assert ourselves, especially with regard to pay. Last fall Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told a group of women in technology that they shouldn’t ask for raises, but to trust that the system will give them the “right raise”.

Having been a woman in a male-dominated field, I can tell you the system fails.

Fortunately, Nadella’s co-panelist at the meeting was computer scientist Dr. Maria Klawe. She offered better advice. According to this article from Salon, she said,

“First of all, do your homework…know what the appropriate salary is.” … “Then role play, sit down with someone you really trust, and practice asking them for a raise.”

Know what the appropriate price is. Shake off the voice that says you don’t deserve that much. Practice asking for the right amount. Ask.

One thing I learned a long time ago: you don’t get if you don’t ask.

So what about the voice in your head, the one that says you’re not quite good enough, not ready? This post by Tara Mohr addresses the doubt. She says that voice “is a wild liar. It has no bias for truth-telling. It says whatever it thinks might make you leap right back into the cozy territory of the familiar.”

Does it feel weird asking for pay? You can learn to quiet the inner critic that keeps you holding back. One way to do that is to practice. Marie Forleo’s post, linked above and here, includes a video on practicing. It’s kind of light and funny, but has some really good points.

Do you struggle with asking for pay? Do you have tips in asking to be paid, or paid more? Share with us.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Pay for Quilters (and other Crafters and Artists)

I was curious this morning about how well crafters are paid. What should we plug in to that wage figure, when we calculate cost of labor? Well, guess what, folks — there is a way to find out! In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps records of wages in thousands of labor categories.

The most recent statistic for 2012 shows a median hourly wage of $21.34 per hour. “Median” means it is the middle, with half of workers making more than that and half making less. Federal minimum wage is $7.25, so the median is approximately three times minimum wage. Below is a screen shot of the page I viewed. Click through here to see it for yourself and read more detail.

Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 4.02.36 PM

Let’s go a little farther with this look. Suppose we want to compare the textile crafter or artist in the U.S. to a textile laborer in another country. We know so many of the “bag” quilts are made in China. This isn’t necessarily an apples-to-apples comparison, as the workers are not making any decisions. But maybe this will give us a sense of scale.

An article from 2014 looks at textile workers’ pay in several countries. It shows Chinese laborers have a minimum wage of €175 per month. This works out to approximately US$200. If you assume 160 hours of labor a month (40 hours x 4 weeks) that works out to $1.25 per hour. In fact work hours are typically longer than 8-hour days, so this is a high estimate.

Are you outraged to think of Chinese textile workers, working over bedding and clothing for a dollar an hour? I hope you are. They deserve more.

You deserve more, too. If you “sell” your quilts for direct cost of materials and don’t include your time in the price, you are making less than a Chinese textile worker. It can feel uncomfortable to ask for fair pay. But it is not wrong. It is right. You deserve more.

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs

Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2

As discussed in yesterday’s post, Price vs. Value Part 1, some quilters want to sell their quilts for costs, and include a profit. Others have no interest in that. My hope today is to provide a point of education for quilters of both types, and for non-quilters alike. Even when you give a quilt as a gift, you might discuss with the receiver elements that went into it, so they can appreciate the magnitude of that gift. We’ve all heard stories of quilts that end up on garage sale tables for $25, or that pad the dog bed. Owners who value your work don’t do these things.

Those who do choose to sell can struggle with pricing. It’s easy to think of materials that go into a specific quilt, but there’s a lot more. These can be broken into direct costs and indirect costs. Direct costs are the materials and labor that directly go into a specific quilt. Indirect costs include overhead of space and equipment, or other costs that are harder to attribute to a specific quilt. All of these need to be considered to objectively value your quilt.

The list below is a) pretty complete, but if you think about it, you’ll come up with things I missed; and b) way too complete, as I don’t mean to scare you away! My intention is just to remind you that you pay for all this stuff, and all of it goes in your projects. And note, I am not an expert on taxes! Consult a tax professional about tracking your expenses for tax purposes. This is just for purposes of pricing.

DIRECT COSTS attributable to a specific quilt
Material
Fabric including waste
Batting including waste
Thread
Basting spray
Fusible products
Foundation paper
Embellishments
Pattern
Labeling products

Labor time required to
Choose pattern and/or develop design
Choose fabric and other materials including search time
Wash, dry and otherwise manage not-yet-used project fabric
Press fabric
Cut
Piece
Press
Assemble
Applique, embellish, etc
Quilt
Bind
Clean area after creation
Sell

INDIRECT COSTS Overhead including equipment, tools, notions, utilities, and space
Washing machine
Dryer
Laundry detergent
Iron
Ironing board
Gel mat (to stand on while ironing, cutting, long-arm quilting)
Starch/sizing
Water
Cutting table
Scissors
Rotary cutter
Cutting mat
Rulers
Rotary blades
Sewing machine, serger, embroidery machine, long-arm machine
Sewing table/surface
Needles
Machine oil
Bobbins
Specialty feet
Maintenance of machines
Lamps/lights and bulbs
Electricity
Camera
Computer
Specialty software
Internet access
Storage space for materials, notions, tools, etc.
Room square footage for your studio
Craft show booth space, advertising, or other marketing costs

In truth, some of these are pretty hard to track or attribute. You may have a washer and dryer, anyway, or a computer and internet access. And breaking out your studio electricity costs from other home energy costs may be difficult, at best. But these are costs of doing business.

So how to include all of this when pricing a quilt? Track your direct costs of materials. If the fabric you use in a quilt was already in inventory (stash,) remember you’ll need to replace that fabric in your inventory with new fabric, not necessarily on sale. Same with batting and thread. Keep a record of your time. Consider the value of your time as a skilled artisan. Skilled workers don’t work for minimum wage.

There are worksheets available in various places to record these. Start here with Sam Hunter’s We Are $ew Worth It post, which includes a sheet to track your time. In addition she has a sample invoice to demonstrate to buyers the expenses entailed in a quilt. And check Dana Jo Forseth’s spreadsheet, also. Dana Jo is an accountant and quilter.

Neither of these worksheets include recognition of those indirect costs, though. How do you add in the cost of wear and tear on your iron? Tough question. Many of those indirect costs are related to the time you spend, so perhaps you increase your wage to incorporate them. Or increase your applied “profit” margin to include them.

There are various ways to determine price. Here I’ll outline four of them.

1) Include all direct materials cost, multiply that cost by some factor, and price the quilt at the resulting figure. For example, your material costs are $100. You might choose a multiplier for that type of quilt of 3. (This is just an example, not a magic number.) Then 3 x $100 = $300, and that’s your price. This does not explicitly account for all those other costs, nor for profit. But you may find (after tracking your time on a few projects) that it works out fairly for you. Certainly it is more fair than taking $0 for your labor, overhead, and profit.

2) Track time and direct expenses on a worksheet or spreadsheet. Price your time as skilled labor (or better), in other words, at least twice minimum wage. Add an appropriate profit margin of 10-20%. For example, your materials cost $100. You put 20 hours into the quilt at $20 per hour, equalling $400. Materials plus labor is $500. Add a profit margin of 10%, or $50. The total is $550.

3) Track time and expenses on enough quilts of different types and sizes to understand value as it relates to size of the quilt. Price your quilt by the square inch or square foot. An alternative is to price by linear inch, rather than square inch. While this is the approach taken by many art quilters, it can also work well for “traditional” quilters. Here are two links to explain this approach more thoroughly than I can here. Cory Huff at the Abundant Artist lays out both square inch and linear pricing here. (Read the rest of his post, too. It applies just as well in our world as it does for painters.) And quilt artist Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry of Bryerpatch Studio discusses the issues, including galleries, consignments, and installations here.

4) Have your quilts appraised by a certified, professional quilt appraiser. While this adds to the expense (which could be included in the price), it assures the buyer of value.

All four of these approaches include some level of pain, if only in counting your direct material costs. However, if you choose to be a businessperson, creating and selling your products, you will find power in valuing your own work correctly, and you will empower your clients as they understand the work they are buying.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. How do you determine prices for the quilts you sell?

If you’d like to read my posts on quilting as a business, you can find them here:

Quilting for Pay — The Longarm
Conversations with Artists
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 1
Price vs. Value of a Quilt, Part 2
You Should Write Patterns
“It Feels Weird Asking for Pay”
Pay for Quilters (And other Crafters and Artists)
You Should Sell Those: A Play in Three Short Scenes, With Commentary

Cotton — Where Does Your Fabric Come From?
Cotton — What Happens After Harvest?
Cotton — Weaving Fabric
Cotton — Batik Production
Cotton — Printing Designs